Nourishing Networks: The Public Culture of Food in New Orleans, 1800-1950

Nourishing Networks examines how diverse communities of New Orleanians exercised agency and built community through the daily work of provisioning a city, work which was always about more than just sustenance. Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, street food businesses and public food markets played a crucial role in provisioning the city, together making up the city’s public food culture. This book examines this public food culture and how it worked to feed urban residents; how food distribution centers shaped the physical and social environment of the rapidly growing city; what the economic and cultural consequences of regulation were for New Orleans and its residents; and what factors led to the eventual weakening of the city’s public food culture, as by 1950, the public food markets had disappeared. Above all, the book focuses on relationships between vendors, their customers, and the local government officials that regulated the sale and distribution of food.

Nourishing Networks’s focus on relationships among diverse players reveals that vendors and their customers—many of whom were politically marginalized because of their race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other identity and demographic factors—exercised considerable influence over the local food economy and the local laws that regulated it: negotiating prices, creating sites of distribution, shaping taste preferences, conducting research to inform policy, advocating for their businesses and personal interests, and openly defying ordinances they felt were unfair. Nourishing Networks, therefore, is a story of how power operates in unexpected and often overlooked ways through the networks of exchange that feed a city.